Wed, Feb 01, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Senegal braces for more protests against president

AFP, Dakar

Senegal readied for fresh protests yesterday after security forces shot dead a 60-year-old woman and a teenager at a rally against Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s controversial bid for a third term.

Tensions have escalated in the West African nation after the Constitutional Council gave Wade the green light to run in Feb. 26 polls, prompting international calls for calm and condemnations of violence.

Senegal, typically a beacon of democracy among troubled neighbors, was urged by Amnesty International to halt a clampdown on protesters after two people were shot dead by security forces in the northern city of Podor.

“Today’s bloodshed marks a dramatic escalation in the violence that has plagued Senegal in the run-up to its elections,” said Salvatore Sagues, the global rights body’s West Africa researcher.

Washington, for its part, urged 85-year-old Wade to allow power to pass “to the next generation.”

“While we respect the process, the political and legal process in Senegal, the fact that he’s now been cleared to run, our message to him remains the same: that the statesmanly like thing to do would be to cede to the next generation, and we think that would be better,” US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists. “Our view is that Senegalese democracy is strong enough to move to the next generation.”

However, El Hadj Amadou Salla, minister of state and a senior Wade campaign official, said it was “too late” and the president’s candidacy had already been validated.

The country’s opposition has called for mass resistance to force Wade to step aside in the wake of the ruling, which sparked deadly riots on Friday in which a policeman was killed.

A fresh protest was planned for yesterday afternoon in the Dakar suburb of Colobane, stoking fears of more violence.

The Constitutional Council on Monday dismissed all appeals against Wade’s candidacy, leaving no legal recourse for opponents who accuse him of carrying out a constitutional coup.

A 17-year-old protester and 60-year-old female bystander were shot dead by paramilitary police who “opened fire on a crowd demonstrating against the Constitutional Council decision” in Podor, Amnesty said.

Details on Monday’s protest in the distant northern town are sketchy, but sources say it was led by a regional leader of the June 23 Movement (M23) of opposition and civil society groups.

The opposition argues that the Constitution allows a president to serve only two consecutive terms, but Wade says the law, which was amended in 2008, does not apply retroactively and cannot take into account his previous two terms.

Meanwhile, police freed a coordinator of the M23 protest movement on Monday after two days in custody.

Alioune Tine, a prominent member of the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, said he was freed without being charged.

“I still don’t know what they accused me of,” the activist said.

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